Applying 411

Goal setting for graduate school

In the Applying 411 series, there are specific posts on:

These are all components of a graduate school application.

Admissions representatives are often asked what is required to “get in.” The implication is that there is a perfect way to compose a personal statement or a specific format for a reference letter that will unlock an admissions offer. Or, of course, that there is a specific G.P.A. number or test score that means you’re in…or out.

In fact, the story that application components tell together is going to be more important than any one specific application component. (This is particularly true at Emory where we practice whole file review to reduce bias in our admissions process.) Unlike your past grades or the number of hours you’ve spent in the lab, your story is something you can refine as part of the application process.

Figuring out your story in this context has a lot to do with setting your goals for graduate school.

  • Where have you been and where are you going?
  • Why do you want to go to graduate school?

If you don’t know what your goals are, that’s okay. Goal setting can be a part of the process of applying to graduate school and it can help strengthen your application as a whole.

How do I set goals?

In some ways, this is much too big a question to answer in a blog post. People can (and have!) developed entire philosophies related to goal setting and what a goal even is.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume you want to go to graduate school. Your immediate goal is to get accepted somewhere.

And the related goals you will want to consider to help boost your changes of getting accepted are:

  • your short term learning goals
  • your short term career goals
  • your long term learning and career goals (“Five Year Plan”)

How do I determine my short and long term goals in chemistry?

There are a lot of ways to do this, both practical and philosophical. In this post, I will focus on a specific resource, the Individual Development Plan (IDP), specifically Chemidp from the American Chemical Society.

ChemIDP is an Individual Development Plan designed specifically for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in the chemical sciences. Through immersive, self-paced activities, users explore potential careers, determine specific skills needed for success, and develop plans to achieve professional goals. ChemIDP tracks user progress and input, providing tips and strategies to complete goals and guide career exploration.

American Chemical Society

You are most likely a potential graduate student, but you can still make use of this free graduate student resource to help begin to inhabit the role you are applying for. In particular, completing the self assessment can be helpful. Chemidp asks you to assess your skills and values before engaging in goal setting because self-knowledge helps you to set realistic goals that are genuinely connected to what you want.

Of course, this isn’t the only way to set goals! But it might be the closest thing to the short cut some applicants are looking for. And it’s a good starting point for thinking not just about “getting in” but what that means and why it matters to you.

That is the foundation of a great application.

What if I don’t know what I want out of graduate school?

It is completely okay to apply to graduate school without knowing exactly what you want out of the experience. That might be surprising to hear.

As discussed in a previous entry in this series, graduate school is probably not a good choice for someone who just doesn’t know what they want to do and needs somewhere to land.

However, graduate school is a great place to learn more about something you enjoy in a context where you can explore who you are and what you want to accomplish.

Being open and curious about new goals is an ideal frame of mind for graduate school success. Your goals are, in fact, very likely to change while you are immersed in advanced research, teaching, and coursework.

Goals change because people change. That doesn’t mean goals should be weak or easily discarded. Clear, meaningful goals related to your skills and values give you something to fight for and, when necessary, to let go.

You don’t have to know everything to apply to graduate school (what would we teach you?) But knowing a bit about yourself and what you want to accomplish will make for a stronger application and, hopefully, a useful graduate school experience.

Additional Resources

Next in Applying 411: Other resources for graduate applicants